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Difficult Employee Series: Lack of Accountability

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“Being held accountable is an act of generosity and compassion. It is a gift that someone gives us to correct our wrongs, unlearn, and do better for the sake of our own growth. It might be uncomfortable, but it is worth the discomfort.” – Minaa B.

It may seem obvious, but the workplace is a complicated place where multiple personalities come together to pursue a common goal.

Each employee plays an essential role in a business’s success, and even a minor problem with one employee can cause even the most well-run organisation to grind to a halt.

Difficult employees come in all shapes and sizes, and all present different problems to manage.

However, one particularly challenging employee to manage is someone who lacks accountability.

A lack of accountability can manifest in many ways, but it’s most apparent when employees refuse to take responsibility for their assigned tasks. In practice, this can lead to mediocre work output and many mistakes.

While we all make mistakes, an issue arises when an employee refuses to take ownership of them. They may try to blame someone else or the situation itself.

Problems that a lack of accountability causes

A lack of accountability may seem like little more than an attitude problem.

However, when left unchecked, it disrupts the workplace.

For example, 87% of employees believe a lack of accountability leads to decreased morale. 60% of employees report that they would be more productive if there were more accountability in the workplace.

A poor attitude to work can lead to issues with an employee’s ability to work well in your company. When they refuse to take ownership of the quality of their work or even their professional elements, such as punctuality, their output will become ordinary.

This can directly affect how your business operates; average work delivered to clients can even damage your reputation.

At best, another employee may pick up the slack for those who don’t take responsibility for their work. However, the burden can have a ripple effect on your team, leading to the rest of your employees feeling unsatisfied.

This feeling may even result in a negative feedback loop as other employees may feel it’s not worth taking responsibility for their work if their colleagues aren’t.

Ultimately, the quality of your team’s output will worsen. The run-on effects can even lead to your employees leaving, as a positive culture of accountability can reduce turnover rates by almost 43% by keeping employees more engaged.

Addressing employees who refuse to take ownership of their actions is essential. However, before confronting the employee immediately, you must make a few considerations:

Inward reflection:

A lack of accountability in your workplace can stem from many things, and examining your company’s culture is essential.

Often, employees will not take responsibility due to underlying workplace issues. They may feel a sense of fear about owning up to their mistakes if the consequences outweigh the benefits. There could also be unclear expectations for employees, who may not know what to do.

It’s essential to look at your company and your leadership position.

  • Do you yourself openly own up to your mistakes?
  • When someone does make a mistake, how do you react?
  • Is there a clear plan in place if someone does make a mistake?

Considering all these aspects will build a more open culture within your office, making it easier for your employees to take accountability.

However, if your other employees can take responsibility and you’ve proactively built an open culture, it could be time to address the employee directly.

Addressing the employee:

An employee who shows no signs of accountability can be incredibly frustrating. If it’s been a problem for an extended period, it may be tempting to go in all guns blazing.

However, taking a considered tone when approaching an employee is essential. An employee may be struggling with their mental health or even family problems at home. They could be experiencing some anxiety or are just unclear about dealing with mistakes.

Listening to your employees and considering their problems is essential; understanding their perspective can help create a proactive management plan.

A Proactive Management Plan:

Once you’ve outlined the problem, you can build a plan. There are a whole host of methods that you can use, for example:

  • Expectations and responsibilities write-ups, which the employee can use as references for their improvement.
  • Scorecards and metric dashboards to measure how an employee improves.
  • Regular progress check-ins to give feedback and understand problems.
  • Process write-ups so you can understand what is working and what is not.
  • Implement checklists so you can stay organised.
  • Project plans to outline future goals over time.

There is no one solution to managing an unaccountable employee. However, it is vital to develop a management plan so your employees can develop.

What to do if an employee does not respond to your plan:

With proactive steps in place, most employees will show signs of improvement. However, sometimes, employees simply refuse to be accountable. In such cases, your mind may wander to the process of dismissal.

It’s important to consider that under the Employment Rights Act of 1996, capability or performance is regarded as a reasonable ground for dismissal.

However, under the same law, employers are required to do so reasonably. It’s therefore essential to take the following steps:

  • Making the employee aware of their poor conduct
  • Making sure the employee knows what is expected of them
  • Giving the employee additional training and support if necessary
  • Giving the employee enough time to improve before disciplinary procedures and dismissal are considered

You must record the steps you have taken to help provide evidence if a case goes through the dismissal process.

This can be vital, primarily if the employee seeks an employment tribunal.

An unaccountable employee can be like a broken spoke in your business’s wheel. Their work can become mediocre and affect the rest of your team.

However, it’s essential not to consider it the employee’s fault. Inward reflections on your culture can result in practical steps for improvement.

If you’re having trouble getting employees to take responsibility for their tasks, we offer a comprehensive range of services designed to streamline your HR processes, implement proactive management plans, and help build a proactive culture.

With 35+ years of experience managing complex employee relations, we’re equipped to handle any situation and mitigate legal problems.

If you’d like to reach out, please contact us on 01455 444222 or email us

Angela Clay

A qualified employment law solicitor and our managing director, Angela has unparalleled legal expertise and decades of experience and knowledge to draw from. She’s a passionate speaker and writer that loves to keep employers updated with upcoming changes to legislation, and is a regular guest speaker on BBC Leicester Radio.